"If you’ve found it tough, it’s because it was tough. Please be gentle with yourself, because even positive change can be challenging."
How to Navigate the Easing of Restrictions with Calm Confidence
As vaccines roll out across the world and restrictions lift, we enter a whole new phase of pandemic life. If the concept of a ‘new normal’ is making you anxious, you're not alone. Suzy Reading, Chartered Psychologist and Author, explains why you may be feeling the way you feel, and what you can do about it.
We’ve just weathered an extraordinary period of our lives. No one has had it easy and yet so many of us are feeling like we shouldn’t have found it so tough when others have had it worse.
The fact is, someone else’s pain does not negate your own and the normal response to tough times is to struggle. If you’ve found it tough, it’s because it was tough. Please be gentle with yourself and as restrictions ease, we need less pressure not more, because even positive change can be challenging. It is going to take more than a trip to the pub and a new hair-do to process and restore from the stress of the last 18 months.
The effects of lockdown life and restrictions easing
Anxiety has been a common theme for good reason, whether it was an amplification of symptoms, an unexpected resurgence for some people, and for others a first real experience of anxiety. There has been a genuine threat to contend with and as restrictions lift, concerns are still running high.
Our comfort zone is determined by the things we do on a regular basis, and during lockdown our lives contracted, so naturally we will feel wobbly as we reclaim things we haven’t been able to do for a while, even when those things are very familiar. We have also had it drummed into us to ‘stay at home to stay safe’ and that when we do go out we should stay away from people and refrain from touching anything – it will take us some time to dial down the natural anxiety we feel as we emerge from our bubbles. Restorative practices are key to us navigating these challenges.
We may also be surprised by the sense of grief bubbling to the surface as we go back out into more normal expression of life. This is when we see clearly how we have been deprived, the toll it has taken on our health, and prompts us to reflect on the enormity of our experiences.
There are still restrictions to how we live our lives and many of us are still separated from loved ones and precious places, this is yet another phase of pandemic life with its own challenges and our losses need to be acknowledged and validated.
Don’t give yourself a hard time if you are experiencing deep fatigue. Many people are questioning why they feel so tired when ‘all they’ve had to do is stay at home’. When you take into consideration the depletion of screens, the monotony, the uncertainty and lack of control, it begins to make sense. Stress, being on high alert, is understandably exhausting and it may take a little while for our effervescence return.
The pressure cooker of work and private life colliding in our homes has tested even the healthiest of relationships. Feeling guilty about struggling may have been another barrier to reaching out, fearful of burdening others and fuelling a feeling of being alone or disconnection from other people.
Contrary to what we might think at first, know that sharing your vulnerabilities invites others to do the same, deepening your bonds and helping your loved ones feel trusted and valued.
As we begin to socialise more face to face it’s also very normal to feel rusty, out of practice, and because not much has happened it can feel like there is nothing to say. Give yourself time, and know that your social stamina will bounce back.
"Give yourself time, and know that your social stamina will bounce back."
EXERCISE: YOUR TIMELINE OF GRIT
Try this reflective practice to bring perspective and cultivate greater self-compassion. Jot down your ‘timeline of grit’.
Reflecting on the last 18 months, answer the following questions:
What did you overcome? Identify the strengths you used.
What did you learn about yourself or the world?
How would anyone else feel had they gone through the same experiences?
How can you extend tenderness towards yourself or what do you need right now?
The silver linings to lockdown
Despite the very real challenges we have faced, we also know that it’s not all bad! There have been some beautiful blessings to come from this chapter too.
We have seen a tangible evolution of work practices - we know definitively that we can do things differently. We now have a real opportunity to look at ways of working that promote both performance and wellbeing.
Some of us have had precious time with immediate family - rather than hours wasted each day commuting, lockdown provided a chance to bond and be together. This chapter of being at home also offered insight into the reality of what our family members face in their day to day life, potentially deepening our compassion and appreciation of each other.
Living through the pandemic has facilitated some powerful lessons for us too. We understand fully the value of our health and other blessings, the pause in the busyness of life has created space to consider what’s really important to us, and many of us have broadened our self-care toolkit or pursued different goals during this time.
EXERCISE: REFLECTIVE PRACTICE
Try this reflective practice to cultivate a sense of meaning and to help you make peace with your experiences.
Think back over your experience of the pandemic.
Have there been any benefits for you?
Has it helped you get clear on what feels important to you?
How have you grown?
Of the changes that you made over the last 18 months, what would you like to hold onto moving forwards?
What are you excited about reclaiming too?
Practical ways to navigate this next chapter
As restrictions lift, keep expectations of yourself, others and this chapter realistic, remembering that even change we want can be hard. Take away the pressure of feeling ‘I should be happy now’. While the toughest restrictions may be behind us, there is plenty of processing to be done and you may be experiencing some conflicting emotions. Toxic positivity serves no one and the only way out is through when it comes to feeling our feelings. Even as life ‘smooths out’, there will be bumps in the road and compassion is key.
Be gentle with yourself, acknowledging the very real anxieties we are all facing. The threat is still present and we are not free from uncertainty and further change beyond our control. Make peace with worry and know that anxiety is here to protect us. We can even thank our anxiety for trying to keep us safe. Remember that our emotions are messengers, they are not the gospel truth. We need to check in and assess the situation and take swift restorative action to soothe our nervous system. Breathing practices, tender self-massage, comforting scents and affirmations can help keep us anchored in calm.
When you return to busier, noisier environments and more frequent face to face social interaction, be prepared for a feeling of sensory overload. Even when it’s a conversation or an outing you’ve enjoyed it is normal to come away feeling a bit full up, maybe like you need a lie down. Be proactive and manage your energy before events or occasions and afterwards take the time to top up your energy bank. To build your self-soothing toolkit, you’ll find inspiration in my IGTV library, with sessions on burnout and sensory overload for example.
Clarity on our boundaries is essential to us effectively negotiating this chapter of our lives. Spend some time thinking about what you need to feel safe and healthy in relationship with others, in your work and home life, and in the environments you are immersed in. It’s not enough to just think about them, we need to give voice to our boundaries and have the courage to honour them.
This includes our relationship with ourselves too. We know full well the importance of our health. What do you need in your day to feel energetic and clear headed? Think of this as the scaffolding in your day that allows you to step up and be the person you aspire to be. These healthy practices, like nutrition, hydration, movement, time in Nature, sleep, rest, creative pursuits, and social connection, not only help us heal and restore, but they also build our innate immune competence, giving us a protective buffer against whatever the future holds.
SUZY READING, Chartered Psychologist
Suzy is a mother of two, an author, Chartered Psychologist and yoga teacher. She specialises in self-care, helping people manage their stress, emotions, and energetic bank balance. It was her lived experience of motherhood colliding with the terminal illness of her father that sparked her passion for self-care which she now teaches to her clients, young and old, to cope during periods of stress, loss and change and to boost their resilience in the face of future challenges. Suzy is on the editorial board for Motherdom Magazine and is a founding member of the ‘Nourish’ app.